Dissertation Index

Author: Meyer, Kati M

Title: Emotion in the Music of Elton John

Institution: University of Iowa

Begun: August 2014

Completed: May 2016


This research seeks to understand how emotion and pleasure connect with popularity in Elton John’s music. First, Meyer argues that preference the enjoyment of this music is based on how listener’s expectations for harmonic and melodic musical parameters are subverted. This research draws primarily on David Huron’s theory of expectation to show how music that deviates from the expected norm can be re-evaluated positively. In addition to Huron, it draws on empirical psychology studies that have determined a number of musical correspondences to emotional evocations. Throughout the analyses, The author examines how specific chord placement may incite emotion for the typical listener of pop/rock music, and contends that those specific chords and their placement reliably create emotions that are linked to enjoyment. She also finds that elements like melodic contour, repetition, and perceptual salience play a significant role in shaping the listener’s reactions to musical stimuli.

In the second half of the dissertation, the author uses empirical research studies to help address the physiological element of musical listening and enjoyment. Meyer finds that listeners use their bodies to entrain to rhythm and react to musical stimuli through laughter, tears, and frisson. Additionally, she investigates the embodiment of music and emotion through the bodily experience of Elton John as a pianist and singer. The analyses explore embodied emotional gestures on the keyboard and how those gestures bear on the listener’s emotional connection to the music. Lastly, Meyer speculates about how Elton’s vocal gestures influence song expression and emotional evocation. This investigation of bodily reactions to music explores how the body might enjoy certain aspects of music and how bodily enjoyment factors into emotion and popularity. Ultimately, Meyer argues that Elton John’s music is enjoyable because of violation or validation of expectations within the harmony and melody, and because of emotionally laden bodily and vocal gestures perceived by the listener.

Keywords: Popular music, emotional valence, physiological responses to music, Elton John, spectral analysis, subverted expectations


List of Tables
List of Figures
List of Examples
1 Introduction
2 Harmony
2.1 Psychology of Emotions from Music
2.2 Corpus Study Findings
2.3 Chord Categories
2.4 “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
2.5 Conclusion
3 Melody
3.1 Melodic Organization and Expectations
3.2 Melodic Determinants of Emotional Expression
3.3 Melodic Features
3.4 Conclusion
4 Listener Physiology
4.1 Embodied Understanding of Music
4.2 Rhythmic Entrainment and Other Physiological Responses to Rhythm
4.3 Other Overt Physiological Reactions
4.4 Conclusion
5 Performer Physiology
5.1 Expressive Movements of Pianists
5.2 Analysis of Hand Movement in “The Bridge” (2006)
5.3 The Voice
5.4 Conclusion
6 Epilogue
7 Bibliography


Dr. Kati Meyer
Morningside College

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